16 August 1513 – The Battle of the Spurs

Aug16,2016 #Henry VIII

Meeting_of_Henry_VIII_and_MaximilianOn Tuesday 16th August 1513, the Battle of the Spurs, if it can be called a battle, took place at Guinegate (Enguinegatte) in France.

England was allied with the Empire at this point, so the battle was to be between the Holy League (the joint forces of Henry VIII and Emperor Maximilian I) and Francis I of France. Chronicler Edward Hall describes the scene that day:

“Then the horsmen set forward, and the archers alighted and wore set in order by an hedge all a long a village side culled Bomye: the Frenchmen came on with xxxiii. standardes displayed, and the archers shotte a pace and galled their horses, and the English speres set on freshly, cryeng sainct George, & fought valiantly with the Frenchmen and threw downe their standards, the dust was great and the crye more, but sodainly the Frenchmen shocked to their standards and fledde, and threw away there speres, swerdes, and mases and cut of the bardes of their horses to ronne the lighter, when the hinder parte saw the former fly, they fled also, but the soner for one cause which was this. As y English horsmen mounted vpp the hill, the stradiates were comyng downe wardes on the one syde of the hill before the French hoste, which sodainly saw the banners of the English horsmen, and the kynges battayle folowyng vpwarde, wenyng to them that all had been horsmen, then they cast them self about and fledde, the Frenchmen so fast in array that the stradiates could haue no entre, and so they ran still by thedes of y ranges of the French army: and when they behynde saw the fall of their standardes and their stradiates in whome they had greate confidence retorne, they that were farthest of fledde firste, then vp pranced the Burgonyons and folowed the chace: this battaile was of horsmen to horsmen but not in egal nomber, for the Frenchmen were. x. to one, which had not byn sene before tyme, that Thenglishe horsemen gatt the victory of the men of armes of Fraunce. The Frenchmen call this battaile the iourneyof Spurres because they rune away so fast on horsbacke.”

So, it seems more of a brief skirmish rather than a battle. Historian J.J. Scarisbrick writes of the encounter: “There was no pitched battle – only a hurtling gallop across the fields at Guingates.” However, the fact that six standards were left behind and a duke, marquis and the vice-admiral of France were captured “was enough to give the skirmish the aura of an heroic victory – the so-called Battle of the Spurs – and to allow Henry to describe it in grandiose terms.”

You can read more, including Henry VIII’s account of the battle, in my article from 2010 – click here.

Picture: Contemporary woodcut of the meeting of Henry VIII and Maximilian at the siege of Thérouanne.

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2 thoughts on “16 August 1513 – The Battle of the Spurs”
  1. Battle or Skirmish? Something in between? The French came out to attempt to relieve the town and break through, the English and allies charged them down, overwhelming the French who gave flight, being chased by the King’s knights. The French left some valuable noble prisoners, banners and some people were killed. So obviously some fighting took place but no great battle took place. I can appreciate that Henry blew it up, who wouldn’t? The painting is very impressive and was used to give the French a diplomatic slap in the face whenever they visited the English court. In the end Henry got his two towns, partly due to Sir Charles Brandon, whom he made Duke of Suffolk, partly as the French became demoralized. The heroic nature of the French attempt and the shock speed of how they were overwhelmed is what stands out, the battle or not is not important, but how it is remembered. The same can be said for great battles in history aa well as other skirmishes, sieges and even surrenders. Most surrenders did not end with the entire population being put to the sword, but in an agreement for the local lord to be a good subject and rule on behalf of the new one or the garrison being allowed to leave. Even the Battle of Quadesh which was a pitched battle ended in an honourable peace and a draw, not the great victory Rameses the Great had drawn on the walls in Egypt. It does not mean that Rameses was not a warrior, just the Hittites were better. The first known treaty was created as a result and Rameses is known for his buildings not warrior prowess. Some historians have even raised questions about Agincourt. Ian Mortimer for example states that the mud into which the French nobles were forced by our pincer movement as well as the arrows played more of a role as the heavy rain bogged them down, than the actual arrowstorm itself. Battles were often stalemates until one error or something changed them suddenly. For example Bosworth turned on three things, the death of Norfolk, the betrayal of Stanley and his charge which would have succeeded, but for his betrayal. Waterloo was never going to be settled but for the taking of the farmsteams and the intervention of the Prussians. The Battle of Hastings was a statemate most of the day, until the exhausted Saxons gave way and chased down the hill. In the case of most battles, Hastings and Bosworth included ended when the King or leader was killed. The Battle of the Spurs resulted in the capture of several nobles, later two towns, it was bound to result in propaganda and the magnificent portrait we see today in Hampton Court.

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